Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has described the Irish ability to suck up pain associated with austerity as ‘astonishing’.
And he described our ability to deal with the pain without taking to the streets and rioting like our neighbours in southern Europe as akin to religious ideology.
“It’s like a view that you have sinned. Greece has sinned – redemption through pain. It’s almost a religious notion that if you sinned so badly, you have to feel the pain to get redemption.”
Now, I get what he is saying. I think to people looking in from the outside, they must be thinking, why are the Irish so quiet? High unemployment, austerity cuts that put people in a position where they have to steal food just to survive, it’s widespread….but there are no riots, no burning cars, no marches or protesters and people struggle to understand that, we are the fighting Irish after all but there is a long history of endurance in Ireland. It’s a belief that if we stick this out, there will be better days ahead and this belief is hard-wired into the Irish psyche.
It goes back to the 17th century and the penal era when the English passed laws banning Irish Catholics from opening schools in Ireland and from sending their children abroad for education, from arming themselves. (This act also introduced one of the most famous penal statutes – that if a Protestant offered to buy a horse from a Catholic, the Catholic was obliged to sell for a maximum of five guineas even if the horse was worth more) banished Catholic bishops from Ireland, the entry of all clergy to Ireland from the continent was banned. The laws also prevented marriages between Catholics and Protestants, banned Catholics from practising as solicitors, banned them from voting….and banned them from Twitter too. The bastards.
Dr. Samuel Johnson said, “There is no instance, even in the Ten Persecutions, of such severity as that which the Protestants of Ireland exercised against the Catholics.”
Professor W.E.H. Lecky, one of the most highly regarded English historians of the 19th century, on the Penal Laws said; ‘It was not the persecution of a sect, but the degradation of a nation. It was the instrument employed by a conquering race (the Anglo-Irish) supported by a neighboring Power, to crush to the dust the people among whom they were planted.’
In the town of Bandon, in which Irish Catholics were forbidden to live, this sign was put up over the gates of the town:
Enter here, Turk, Jew or atheist,
Any man except a Papist. (Irish Catholic)
Underneath those lines, some Irishman, fighting back, wrote beneath it:
The man who wrote this wrote it well.
For the same is writ on the gates of Hell.
The Irish people who lived at that time never rose up against England; but what they did do was something that may have been even harder. They endured an attack on their culture, their nationality. They were told to deny who they were.
Their land, vital for survival, was taken from them, all rights were removed and any means of fighting back were stripped away from them. And they were told they could have it all back, if they just converted and stopped being Irish. They refused, and so they lived out their lives in the most brutal, aggressive form of poverty, day after day, year after year, and generation refused to give in.
They endured through the darkest of nights, and the penal laws were eventually appealed without a shot being fired or a drop of blood being spilled.
Resistance is futile…but sometimes it’s all you have.